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“By failing to prepare you are preparing to fail.” – Benjamin Franklin

Every year about this time we enter “list season”. Every news outlet or web site has a “Top 5 or 10 Best or Worst Everything You Can Imagines from 2015”, and maybe a “Top 5 or 10 Anything You Can Think Of for 2016” to go with it. So in keeping with that time of year, we’ll join the club.

Our list is future related. As busy as we are, as much as spend our time just trying to get today’s work done, as leaders we have to be always looking ahead. Of course, that’s a problem. None of us can perfectly see the future. There are potentially dozens (maybe more!) of things we could choose to strategically focus on in the coming year. But here are 5 things I think are important to consider as we enter 2016:

  1. Continued Volatility. Turn on the news, or read an article or blog post, or just look at your business – things are changing constantly. And it’s hard to imagine that changing in the near future. To some people, that means throwing up your hands or burying your head in the sand. To me it means thinking about what kind of leader you need to be in that environment. You could describe that kind of leader lots of ways but I’d choose “adaptable” and “continuous learner”. We have to be ready and willing to change, and we have to be constantly stretching ourselves. Do those two things describe you?
  2. Generational Shifts. People have written books about this already, so I’ll spare you another one. Here’s the brief summary: the people who will dominate the workplace over the next year and beyond (i.e., younger people) have completely different expectations of and desires for their careers. Lots of people are complaining about that, but that’s pointless. Somehow leaders have to be able to provide their people what they need and want in a way that works for the business as well. What are you doing to meet those needs?
  3. Rise of Technology. It still blows my mind when I think of the new technologies we’ve seen in the past 10 years and the ones we appear to be on the cusp of seeing. It also blows my mind when I see leaders act as though there’s a chance technology won’t revolutionize their business or industry. It’s already revolutionizing every business and industry. Some have already changed more than others, but it’s coming for everyone. Some jobs may cease to exist. Some businesses may simply cease to exist. Some industries may cease to exist. Think about your industry – how might what you do fundamentally change because of technology?
  4. Changing Organizational Structures. We’re already seeing this. How companies are designed is changing. Traditionally businesses would hire the employees they need. Now more than ever they’re using temporary help, or independent contractors, or even sharing employees with others in their industry. How might your industry change? How might your business change? What might you share/outsource?
  5. Everything’s a Commodity. OK, maybe not everything, but an awful lot of things. With so much information (and misinformation) available to consumers, it’s harder than ever before to separate yourself from the competition. For so many buyers it all comes down to price – and none of us likes fighting that battle. So how will you differentiate yourself? What about you is different? And how will you get that difference in front of your customers so they can make an informed decision?

A year from now we’ll probably be able to come up with a list of things that happened in 2016 that were totally unexpected. In the meantime, these 5 are a good start. Good luck!

2016

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